“I don’t really care about foreign policy.”
I have heard this countless times. From feminists, progressives, and social justice activists. I’ve even been guilty of espousing such apathy myself as recently as a few years ago.
It’s not that I didn’t care, it’s that I didn’t know. What I did know through studying history is that colonialism and imperialism have caused instability in many regions of the globe that continues to fuel present day conflicts, but the solutions seemed out of my grasp. I didn’t know that women have been active in foreign policy, even before they were active in securing their own right to vote. And, I didn’t understand just how high the stakes were. Likely, because they didn’t directly impact me.
As a college student, I remember driving several hours to D.C. to attend the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference and being very inspired to speak up and push back against old white men in positions of power who felt like they knew more about my life, my body, and my community and could legislate accordingly. I was so inspired in fact that after I graduated I moved to D.C. to make a career out of it.
I reasoned that the United States had little moral authority to spread our American ideals when we were far from living up to them ourselves. To my mind, at the time, I thought that we had to clean up our own side of the street before we could tackle other issues. However, the biggest lesson I’ve learned in political advocacy is that if you’re not influencing policy decisions, someone else is.
The Trump presidency really forced me to interrogate my foreign policy apathy and ask myself the question, “who am I really working for?” The answer, “myself,” seemed hardly sufficient. The notion that all is right in the world as long as I had the right to abortion, access to birth control, and pay equity made clear to me my own privilege.
Americans who care about human rights and justice -must- care about foreign policy, not because it impacts our own lives, families, and communities directly (it does) but because some deeply upsetting injustices get carried out in our names.
Currently in Congress there isn’t a huge difference between Democrats and Republicans on some of the country’s biggest national security and foreign policy issues. Academics and policy wonks dominate the discourse perpetuating elitism and an unproductive status quo. It’s up to us to break out of our issue silos to challenge that status quo and offer a vision of foreign policy that reflects our values. If we don’t, we risk more endless wars fueled by fear and misinformation, but this time the consequences could be nuclear.
I’m hopeful because young feminists understand this. They may not understand the intricacies of the latest Nuclear Posture Review or the history of the geopolitical struggle for influence on the Korean Peninsula, but they do understand that you have to show up to fight against injustices even when they don’t directly impact you. They understand intersectionality and are eager to take down institutions and authorities which have let them down by further entrenching problems rather than solving them.
That’s why I’m so excited to return to the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference this weekend as the Field Director of WAND, a women’s organization founded during the Cold War to tackle our nation’s most dangerous and intractable problems. Talking to young feminists from around the country about the gravity of the moment we are currently in and how, right now, they can make a difference will, I hope, help them realize that they are more powerful than they know and inspire them to take on the biggest challenges the world has to offer.